24. Air Group Commander Lost: Pescadores

"…about to be hoisted aboard he lost his grip on the ring, floated clear of the bow and sank…. Commander Klinsmann's loss is unexplainable… unwarranted."

It had been three days since the strike on Saigon. No further word was received about Don Henry or Shirley. Squadron members went ahead with the inventory of their gear and Ham was assigned the duty to notify the relatives back home.

The weather turned bad in the next several days with rumors of an impending typhoon. Nevertheless, on 15 January 1945, the Essex received orders to launch a strike group against prime shipping targets in Takao Harbor, Formosa.

Twelve Avengers, with an escort of nine fighters, were launched with instructions to rendezvous below the cloud ceiling of 800 feet and proceed to target.

Commander G. O. Klinsmann led the group, flying the lead Hellcat. All but two of the fighters were loaded with bombs or rockets. The other VF in Klinsmann's division were flown by Martin, White, and Maikowski. Lt Blackwell led the second fighter division, which included Olson, Garrigan, Hinrichs, and McBee. (1)

After flying through very undesirable weather conditions, the attack group reached Takao Harbor, only to find it closed in by clouds. Cdr Klinsmann then ordered the flight to proceed to the Pescadores Islands, where shipping had been reported. Ample targets were found in Mako-Ko, and targets were assigned to VT and VF by divisions. The weather here was also very bad.

The Tactical Organization for Torpedo Four was: (1)

Pilot Crew
Hamrick, Lee L. (Ham) Trembley, R. A.
Gardner, Keith Wilson, P. J.
Ward, Jr., Felix E. Applegate, Don M.
Hewett, J. E. Shuman, L. P.
Newell, E. A. (Ted) Lace, W. J.
Bissell, F. H. Cook, W. B.
Souza, Will S. Sims, T. R.
Cole, L. A. (Cozy) Shiverdecker, N. L.
Trexler, B. R. (Trex) Aldrich, J. W.
Gray, L. C. Green, H. R.
Ruth, Robert F. (Bob) McConnell, C. L.
Montague, R. B.
Bell, G. M. Pittman, R. R.

Upon arrival at the Pescadores, the flight found two warships (a destroyer and its escort) and three or four AKs or AOs. The DE was anchored and the DD was underway. Antiaircraft fire was "most intense" from shore installations and from the ships, particularly the DD and DE.

"The low cloud cover compelled VT pilots to employ very shallow glides, greatly reducing the accuracy of the drops. Lt Hamrick scored with a hit directly amidships on the Fox Tare Baker. Ensign Gardner placed one bomb on the stern of the same ship. Lt (jg) Ruth hit the Fox Baker amidships with a 500 pounder. There were many near misses, none of which appeared to be damaging, on all four of the ships attacked. The DD appeared to be burning on departure, probably as a result of VF attack." (1)

After Cdr Klinsmann assigned VT targets, he led his own division in a rocket and strafing attack, and sent Lt Blackwell's division against ground installations at the Naval Base at Mako.

"Commander Klinsmann picked the DD as a target for his division scoring two rocket hits himself just aft of amidships on the DD from reports of others on the flight. Lieutenant White fired his rockets at the largest of the AKs, a probable SB. Lieutenant White saw his rockets hit about 50 feet to port of the vessel. Ensign Hinricks [sic] aimed his half-tonner at another AK but missed. A small harbor craft was strafed vigorously by a single VF without obvious effect."
"Immediately after this attack, Commander Klinsmann's plane was seen covered with oil from an AA hit probably in the oil line. This necessitated immediate return to the ship without further observing results. Lieutenant Blackwell's division, which had been attacking shore installations at Mako, was ordered to escort the VT. Commander Klinsmann's division, plus Ensign Olson, started back toward base."
"Because of the clouds the flight soon lost sight of land. Lieutenant White, Lt (jg) Maikowski, and Ensign Olson broke off from the others and flew toward Formosa… to check their position against known land."

Due to low oil pressure from the AA damage to his Hellcat, Cdr Klinsmann decided to make a water landing near the two dispatched US picket destroyers, "…rather than depend on his plane flying the additional 50 miles over very rough seas." The remainder of the combat report states: (1)

"…His wingman, at his request, went over the forced landing check off procedure and got a 'thumbs up' on each item. Both DDs were informed of the unpending [sic] water landing and were standing by to effect the rescue. The Commander made a perfect water landing, was observed to abandon and clear his plane before it sank. Lt (jg) Martin, the group commander's wingman, had experienced engine trouble on the return flight and as the two DDs had the Commander in sight, and the view of the Commander's apparent good condition and position for a quick rescue by either of the DDs the wingman departed for base upon receiving a wave of one hand from him indicating that the Commander was able to take care of himself from then on."
"One of the DDs reported having Commander Klinsmann in sight, successfully throwing him a life line with a life buoy ring attached, and as he was pulled alongside and about to be hoisted aboard he lost his grasp on the ring (the DD having just enough stern way on for steerage), floated clear of the bow and sank before the DD could position itself again. The DD reported that neither Commander Klinsmann's life jacket nor life raft were inflated."

There was great sadness aboard the Essex when the rest of Air Group Four heard about the loss of our friend and Commander. Otto had been with us since the early days on the Ranger. He was a good pilot; respected by the dive bombers because he first led their "Top Hat" squadron; supported by VT-4 because he knew how to bomb; and acknowledged by his fellow fighters in VF-4 because he readily adapted to the Hellcats and never hesitated to lead his group into the most intense action.

John Selka, who served as Otto's plane captain, stated, "He was a wonderful man, a great leader; a gentleman. He treated everyone, including enlisted men, like his own family." (2) His Chief Yeoman, Don Anderson, added: (3)

"I share the same feelings about George Otto Klinsmann. He was always thinking of his people, his pilots, his crewmen. I was his chief yeoman, and he was like a father figure to me. After the debriefing reports were checked by the ACI officers, I had the job of typing them and turning them over to Cdr Klinsmann. I was so busy typing reports for Otto that I rarely got ashore for R&R."

There was no panic about Otto's ditching. It was easy to see why he would not bother to inflate the rubber raft--besides it wasn't that easy to release and inflate. Also, to inflate the life jacket too soon could be cumbersome, so he probably thought that was not necessary in spite of the rough seas. There was one complicating factor--Otto carried extra gear that might have contributed to his drowning. Don Alexander stated. (3)

"I'm not talking about one or two pounds! He had a couple of extra boxes of shells in his flight-suit pockets--and extra survival equipment. If he went down over land he wanted to be able to survive. This extra weight certainly would inhibit his ability to stay afloat."

Nevertheless, none of us could understand why the rescue destroyer did not send some seamen overboard to assist with the rescue. When I went down the next day, several men jumped into the rough seas to help me reach the lines dropped over the side. As the operations report states, Cdr Klinsmann's loss was "unexplainable… unwarranted."

Photo: Cdr Otto Klinsmann Decorated.

Photo: Hellcats Over China Coast - Painting by Doug Cahoon.

Photo: Mog Mog Island - Painting by Doug Cahoon.

(1) Combat Reports, AG-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) Taped Interview with John Selka, CAG-4 Plane Captain.
(3) Taped Interview with Don Alexander, CAG-4 Chief Yeoman.

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Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II
Copyright © 1990-2000 by Gerald W. Thomas